Animation and war movies seem to be the farthest opposites of movie genres, yet they come together in the Netflix mini-series The Liberator in a unique, fascinating, and unexpectedly complementary way.
This four-part miniseries, released on Netflix a little over a month ago, tells the heroic story of Captain Felix Sparks as he lead his battalion of Cowboys, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans to fight for the allies in WWII—and yes, it is animated.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this series childish or skip-able, a glance at the trailer will show you it’s not. Cartoonish is the farthest thing from this style of animation, it’s more reminiscent of those simple sketches, pencil on paper, that somehow manage to capture the utter essence of a person with a few lines; the simplicity keeps you wondering how so little can portray so much. The series was acted in live-action in front of blue-screens (the behind-the-scenes photos are worth looking up if you’re curious) and the animation was drawn over the actors, keeping all of their actions and facial expressions completely in-tact. This fascinating blend of live-action and animation/CGI was enough to make me start watching, but they were not the only reason why I stayed.
The violence in this war series is as graphic as it can be with animation—which is to say not very. Yet even though the animation style does sanitize the images of war somewhat, the film still manages to get across the tragedy of it in different ways. There is a lot of death in the series, realistic for war, though the realism of having so many die sacrifices the chance for the audience to feel deeply for any one death. The tragedy is not so much seen in the individual deaths themselves but more through Felix Sparks’ reaction to them. Though it doesn’t focus for more than a minute on an individual, the series does a good job of taking away the familiar faces one by one, leaving the audience with a sense of loss and letting Felix Sparks’ reaction do the rest.
The other horrors and handled much the same way, with enough details shown to inspire grief, while the true horror the audience feels is inspired by Felix’s reaction to it. This puts a lot, basically the success or failure of the show, on the shoulders of actor Bradley James who portrays Sparks, but James proves he’s well up to the challenge.
James’s performance as Captain Felix Sparks is superb. With a clench of the jaw or a couple of words he vividly portrays the difficulty of his positions—whether it be fighting against the odds to complete impossible tasks or calling for surrender. With such subtly in his performance, the moments where he breaks down over the loss he’s experienced are immensely powerful, not overdone or dramatic—just realistically moving.
Though there are strong performances from the whole cast (Jose Miguel Vasquez as Able Gomez and Martin Seinsmier as Samuel Coldfoot particularly stand out) James’s Sparks is the most consistent face of the show and truly the beating heart of it.
One complaint I have about the series regards, not so much the show itself, as the promotion of it. The teaser trailer that was heavily promoted, implies the series is focused on Felix Sparks and the men of the 157th Infantry Battalion, a fascinating story of an integrated group of cowboys, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans as they fight against racism and bond together. Though the men do feature heavily in the story, the series is really about Felix Sparks himself. Though there are definite moments of development for the men and scenes as they gain respect, Netflix oversold how much the story was focused on them. Despite this, Felix’s story is well worth watching, I would have no complaint if it were not for the slightly false advertising.
Does The Liberator tell a completely unique story from the other war films out there? No. You’ve probably seen films with at least similar elements to this story before, but all of these stories are true acts of heroism and bravery committed by real men. Just because we can’t honor every hero from WWII, just because some of their heroic actions may have been similar, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell as many of their stories as we can, and Felix Sparks’ story is well worth telling. Sometimes, in times of upheaval and stress (as this past year certainly has been) it’s good to hear stories of bravery, heroism, and good men; this series certainly fulfills that need.
The series is the perfect length for a Saturday/weekend binge—three approximately 43 minute episodes and one hour-long one—though the subject matter and tone of the show are so heavy (to be expected for a show about WWII) that it might be best to break it up over two days as I did. Regardless of how you watch it, it’s unlikely you’ll regret it.
In the end, though the timeless story of heroism and bravery is nothing new, it’s refreshing to return to it in 2020, and combined with the unique style of animation and Bradley James’ performance, The Liberator worth the watch.
Written by Koryn Koch
Koryn has enjoyed writing from an early age, her first work being a story about a unicorn. Since then she has become a marginally better writer and gained an appreciation for film as well. She is pursuing a degree in Digital Marketing and when not busy she enjoys spending time with her nine siblings.